Putsch American-Style

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Well, this has been an interesting week. I don't think I've watched CNN this much since the Gulf War. 

I had just taken a virtual house tour with a real estate agent when I heard about what was going on. I tuned into CNN because--live on TV--they seemed to be updating more frequently than the newspapers that I read online. 

I immediately put up some reactions on Wednesday, but as the details surrounding the event have been developing quickly, I decided to take down the original post, edit it, and put it back up today. 

On Wednesday I wrote that I wouldn't call this a "coup attempt" or "insurrection." When I wrote these lines I was thinking only in terms of the rather simple-looking "deplorable" style protesters that we all saw: Viking Man, Pelosi Desk Guy, Lectern-Stealer, Gerald Ford Fondler, etc. My sense was that these folks were Decembrist foot-soldier types: suckers who had been duped into carrying water for people who didn't care about them, and who probably had not set off that morning with a plan to ransack the Capitol.

And, for the most part, I still feel that way. Certainly, the colorfully-dressed yahoos running around taking videos of one another didn't strike me as serious coup plotters or even insurrectionists. I consider those who had entered the Capitol rioters, and those (if there were any) who had stayed outside waving flags as protesters. I still find it hard to believe that most of these individuals had any sense, when they began making their way toward the Capitol building, of what was to transpire.

But mobs can be diverse. Alongside the silly and the stupid, there were also individuals who seemed chillingly serious. The zip-tie guy. A pick-up truck filled with bombs and weapons. Pipe bombs found at the DNC and RNC headquarters. Maybe this is far-fetched, but I wonder if an otherwise freak-filled mob had a few individuals embedded within it who began directing traffic: like these guys.   

Why was it so easy for the mob to get inside? Never mind the fact that the electoral college votes were being counted--the entire US Senate, House of Representatives, and the Vice-President were all in that building. It makes no sense at all that it would have been left undefended. And why did it take so long for reinforcements to arrive? Especially given the fact that we had already seen events like this play out at the state level--like in Michigan. Why was Maryland Governor Larry Hogan's offer to send National Guard troops to the Capitol denied? And why were so many people allowed to leave the scene of the crime on Wednesday? 

Did DJT--or anyone working for him--have anything to do with the lack of policing at the Capitol, and the disturbing manner in which some of the police just seemed to stand aside and let people in? Is this why DJT replaced a slew of individuals in top positions in the Department of Defense following the election?  

And it's not like the White House has no history of dealing with the various federal police forces that are in DC. Some were used in clearing Lafayette Park last summer when DJT wanted to pose in front of the church with a bible. On that occasion, federal forces were used. This time, for some reason, they were extremely passive and slow. Perhaps there are good reasons for this. But I'd like to hear them. 

Maybe it's incompetence or some weird chain of mistakes, I don't know. I can accept the possibility of human incompetence, coincidences, and unlikely connections. It's what makes my job interesting. People who believe in conspiracy theories with no more evidence than "that's the most convincing explanation!" tend to be individuals with no imagination, and usually a non-liberal arts education. I'm an historian and I know perfectly well that crazy things happen even without conspiracies. Perhaps, somehow, someone thought that surrendering the Capitol was simply the most prudent thing to do, without knowing what was going to happen.  

If DJT was simply bloviating on Wednesday morning with no greater ambition than extracting more "stop the steal" donations from his gullible followers, then I'm not sure what exactly he's guilty of--at least in legal terms--with respect to the attack on the Capitol. Inciting a riot, I suppose--but he's been giving inflammatory speeches for years. The only thing different on Wednesday, I think, were the consequences, which came about mainly, it seems, due to the fact that the Capitol was so lightly defended. And if he had nothing to do with the fact that the Capitol was undermanned, then what is the nature of his culpability in the attack? It wasn't just about what DJT said on Wednesday morning, but rather the cumulative effect of telling thousands of lies to his supporters over the course of years, and especially since he lost the election. 

So I think it comes back to what, if any, connection he had with the weird policing going on at the Capitol. If DJT somehow knew or had been in touch with people who knew that the Capitol was lightly defended that day, or if there was some other form of conspiracy connecting him in a more substantial way to the people at the Capitol, then we're in very different waters. Such a scenario--of the president deliberately sending the mob toward the Capitol after having ensured that it would be lightly defended--really could be defined as an insurrection or even a coup attempt, in my opinion. Not one led by the various goons we've been looking at on the news this week, but rather by the president himself. 


DJT should have spent the weeks since the election just bragging about himself and overstating his accomplishments, taking a victory lap re the vaccines and a still-soaring (for now) stock market. Eventually, as time passed, some historian 50 years from now would come up with an argument for explaining why he was actually a good president. Instead, he's clearly obsessed by November's results. But then again, looking backward has been the zeitgeist of his entire administration, hasn't it? 

And for now? I could imagine him sitting back for the next few days and licking his wounds, but is it realistic to think that he'll stay quiet and unobtrusive for the next ten days? What's it going to take--the president threatening to start a nuclear war as revenge on us all for not re-electing him?


The senator from South Carolina would
like to speak now
Like a lot of people, I've also been struck by the craven abandonment of DJT by many of his very recent supporters in Congress. With two weeks to go, they've finally decided that this guy isn't so great after all. I guess late is better than never--even the green dudes protecting the Wicked Witch changed their tune pretty quickly once she had been liquidated. But I wonder what the reaction of DJT's now-erstwhile supporters would have been had this occurred, say, a year ago. Would they really have not found yet another excuse for the inexcusable? 

I thought Mitt Romney's speech was quite statesmanlike. I have to admit, I've long harbored a secret Mitt Romney admiration. He was Governor of Massachusetts when I was going to graduate school in Providence in the early 2000s, and I used to see him on the news a fair bit. He always struck me as articulate and smart. His dad was Governor of Michigan--a liberal Republican of the sort that I feel a certain nostalgia for. 

We'd been heading toward something like this for some time. But whether this is the high-water mark for this kind of stuff or just the beginning of a series of new problems is another question. 

But watching the re-convened Senate Wednesday night I was impressed by the evident bond that the group seemed to feel toward one another, perhaps closer now than previously. Who knows, maybe this week's events will end up bringing people together in some way, whether they're in politics or not. Like I said to my Dad the morning after DJT was elected--I was living in Moscow at the time, we were talking by Skype--perhaps somehow some good might come from all of this.   

Not that it should have required something like this happening first, though. But at this point, I'll take what I can get.

Aryou a Turk across empires? Order a copy today, then get another one for your library.

More commentary, photos, and links can be found in the Borderlands Lounge.  

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